James and Jude
You’ve Got Mail
When I worked for a law firm during my college summers back at home, I did a wide variety of jobs. One was to go through the mail for the attorneys when their secretaries were out on vacation or home sick. I would open each envelope, determine if it indeed needed to be seen by the particular lawyer to whom it was addressed, if it was more general in nature or if it was junk mail. Important letters pertaining to specific cases or requiring that attorney’s expertise were put into one pile. The others were set aside for his secretary to look at when she came back to the office.
I could always tell when the letter needed to be looked at by the lawyer— – I usually couldn’t understand what it was talking about. The correspondence was very detailed and filled with legal jargon. Most referenced people and cases I had never heard of. It was definitely not written for someone like me, a lowly summer clerk.
When we read Scripture, it’s sometimes easy to dismiss certain advice, promises or commands because they seem to belong to another time and people group. While it’s true that some portions of the Bible are specific to certain situations— – the Levitical sacrifices which are now annulled due to the atoning, once-for-all sacrifice of Christ, comes to mind— – it’s also true that we can always learn something from the entire body of Scripture. Romans 15:4 says, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
James wasn’t writing to a specific group of believers, but to all believers— – believers then and now. As we read this letter, we need to remember we’re not reading someone else’s mail. This week we’ll study the first part of James 2. As we do, let’s study with the attitude that this is our mail. We’re going to be talking about our faith, our assemblies and our attitudes.
I. DAY ONE
A. Read through James 2:1-13. It will be the basis for our study this week.
1. In verses 1 to 4 we see James address a specific problem. What are some of the facts James gives of what was going on in churches of his day?
2. Some Bible versions use the term “favoritism” and others use the synonym “partiality.” According to Webster, partiality means the “inclination to favor one party or one side of the question more than the other; an undue bias of mind towards one party or side, which is apt to warp the judgment.”1
3. In what way might you tend to show partiality or deference to some and indifference to others?
B. One of the many practical themes running through the book of James is that of unity among believers. Everything we do for Christ and within Christ is manifested outwardly in how we relate to one another, especially within the church body. There’s an old song that says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”2 The people described in James 2:1-4 don’t seem very loving, do they?
1. Read Ephesians 4:1-6, 25-32 for a beautiful picture of what unity looks like. What are some actions from this passage that would help keep favoritism out of your assembly and out of your life?
II. DAYS TWO AND THREE
A. In James 2:5-7, the author continues with the topic of partiality by comparing those from whom we often court favor— – rich people— – and those we often shove aside as unnecessary— – poor people.
1. Compare James 2:5 with Leviticus 19:15, 25:35, 39; Deuteronomy 15:7, 11; Ecclesiastes 4:13; Matthew 5:3. What do these verses tell us about God’s view of the poor?
2. Luke 19:1-10 describes the story of Zaccheus and his encounter with Jesus. What is the most notable change in Zaccheus’ outlook on his wealth and what does the Lord say about that change?
3. Mark 12:41-44 is the familiar story of the widow and her two small coins. Notice that Jesus called his disciples to him Him to take special notice of what was happening. Why do you think Jesus went to such pains to not only tell this story but to have his disciples see it for themselves?
B. Money is one of the most frequented topics in the Bible. James is no exception. According to Crown Financial Ministries, there are “more than 2,350 verses in the Bible to instruct us in how to be good stewards of what God has placed in our care, making it second to the subject of love as the most discussed subject in the Bible. In fact, two-thirds of the parables that Jesus taught are about money, possessions, and stewardship.”3
1. In light of God’s view of money, read Matthew 6:24. In what way does money affect your ministry, both good and bad?
2. Read Matthew 6:19-21, 33. Where are your treasures currently stored and how does their location reflect your attitude toward the rich and poor in your community?
C. The final portion of this section talks about the secular rich being the ones with whom we often struggle— – they oppress you, they drag you into court, they blaspheme the honorable or fair name by which you were called, meaning Jesus’ name. So why are they looked up to and catered to?
1. In every country in the world there are “superstars.” These could be athletes, actors, political figures, revolutionaries or religious leaders— – anyone who is highly esteemed in the eyes of the populace due to charisma, magnetism, independent thought and, yes, wealth. Who are some of the “superstars” in the area where you live?
2. Read Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:23; Luke 6:24, 18:24; Revelation 3:17. What are some of Christ’s warnings to superstars?
3. What should our attitude be toward those who find themselves extremely satisfied in the things of this world and have no time for Christ?
III. DAY FOUR
A. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s called the “golden rule” and it’s based in Scripture. It’s been worded in a variety of ways by parents, teachers, pastors and employers the world over as a basic reminder of how to live. God’s word Word has hundreds of examples and teachings that emphasize this point. James is no exception.
1. Read James 2:8 and note the phrase from Leviticus which is the basis for the golden rule. Now read other references to the Leviticus phrase in Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31-33; Romans 13:8-11; Galatians 5:14 along with Leviticus 19:11-18. Expand and rewrite the “golden rule” into your own words.
2. How, specifically, can you love your neighbor as yourself this week?
B. Partiality is a main theme of this week’s passage, and in James 2: 9-11,verse 9 to 11 of chapter 2 James confirms it as sin. Even when we think we are acting according to God’s commands— – we don’t commit adultery, we don’t commit murder, and we usually love our neighbor as ourselves— – when we show partiality we’ve transgressed the entire bank of commands. Don’t forget that James is speaking to Christian brothers and sisters (James 2:1).
1. Read John 14:15 and 21, 15:10; I John 2:3, 3:24, 5:3; 2 II John 1:6. If the laws are not for our salvation, what are they for in the life of a believer?
2. Look up the final account we have of Jesus talking to Simon Peter in John 21:15-23. What does following the command to “feed My sheep” look like for you?
3. When Peter asked about John’s future, Jesus emphasized one thing, “You follow Me.” How will this story and that response help purge some of the favoritism in your life?
IV. DAY FIVE
A. Judging. That word seems to strike as much frustration as it does fallacy in the minds of many people. In the short verses of James 2:12 and 13, the author uses a form of the word “judge” three times. So, in the light of what James already penned for us this week— – partiality in the church, treasure issues and the golden rule— – let’s look at what this idea of judging is all about.
1. James begins by saying we are to behave and speak according to the fact that we are going “to be judged by the law of liberty.” James 1:25 used the same terminology.
a. Read Luke 4:16-21 with Isaiah 61:1-2. Jesus quotes the Isaiah passage which talks about liberty and release for those captured and oppressed. In what town was Jesus speaking and what did He say of himself at the end of the Luke passage?
b. Since it was their hometown, James might have been in the synagogue when Jesus was there. What might James have been remembering as he was writing his phrase about liberty in his letter?
c. Read Psalm 119:45 and 2 II Corinthians 3:17. What else about liberty helps clarify James’ use of the word? How can you “speak and act” (James 2:12) accordingly today?
2. Briefly read James 4:11-12 and 5:9 along with Matthew 7:1-2; Romans 2:1-3, 14:13. What is the basis in these passages where believers should not judge others?
3. Read Luke 12:57; Acts 16:15; I Corinthians 5:1-3.
a. When is it right for Christians to judge?
b. Read Acts 5:1-11. Peter uncovered lying that was taking place in the church. What made Peter’s assessment and subsequent judgment correct?
4. We know God has a right to judge men. Read John 3:18; Romans 2: 16;1 I Corinthians 4:5; Hebrews 13:4. For what things does God judge?
B. This has been a heavy day of searching through scriptures. Each category has caused me to pause and reflect on my own motives, reminding me to carefully judge myself and take out my own “eye logs” first (Matthew 7:3-5).
1. How are you being too judgmental?
2. In what ways are you not making correct judgments when you need to be and why do you think that is?
3. How can you – through the law of liberty which is yours – show mercy this week, allowing God to be the ultimate judge in the lives of others?
The mail has come. The letters and notices are for us. They are not incomprehensible and they shouldn’t be tossed in the trash because we think they were sent to the wrong home. James has written to the heart of what’s often wrong in our churches today. Let’s end on these words out of James 2:13 from the Philips translation, “It is still true that ‘mercy smiles in the face of judgment.’”
[Author’s note: I’m using the New American Standard Bible for the study on James unless otherwise noted.]
1. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language ( S. Converse: New York, 1828), facsimile reprinted by Foundation for American Christian Education, San Francisco, CA, s.v. “partiality.”
2. Peter Scholtes, “They’ll Know We Are Christians,” 1966, F.E.L. Publications, Ltd./ASCAP (1925 Pontius Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90025).
3. Crown Financial Ministries,“The Financial Message of the Ministry,” http://www.crown.org/LIBRARY/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=703
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